Back to Consumer

Your Guide to Vehicle Warning Lights


Whether you’re on a road trip or a trip to the store, you’re never ready for the appearance of an unfamiliar light on the dashboard. Eek! Luckily, not all warning lights are created equal! We’ve summarized the top dashboard lights to look out for so you don’t have panic.

Did You know?

Dashboard lights are generally color coded, like traffic lights, to help you discern their level of importance.

Red means that there’s a serious problem brewing and that you should stop driving the vehicle.
Yellow/Orange means that something needs to be serviced or repaired. You can keep driving but do it with caution.
Green/Blue points to a system that’s on (like your high beam lights). This last light is a visual cue and not a cause for concern.

Warning Light Guide

Transmission Temperature (high priority)
This warning light means that your engine is overheating or the coolant level is low. If you let your engine overheat, you risk letting a minor problem turn into enormous damage! If the engine overheats due to inefficient cooling, it could seize up, crack and stop while you’re still driving it! To be safe, turn your car off and let the engine cool. Then get that light checked out by a professional ASAP!

ABS Brakes (high priority)
There are a few things in life you don’t want to gamble with and your vehicle’s brake system is at the top of this list! If your brake light is on, first check whether your emergency brake (also called a parking or hand brake) is in use. If the emergency brake is off, your brake light could indicate that A) there’s a problem with the brake hydraulic system or B) your brake fluid level is low. Either way, your ability to safely come to a stop isn’t worth risking. Put your safety first (and that of other drivers on the road) and steer straight towards your local mechanic or auto body shop for a brake inspection and service.

Check Engine (medium priority)
The check engine light could point towards a few different issues but it’s generally indicative of a problem affecting your vehicle’s ignition, fuel or emission system. If this light comes on, your car’s engine computer is telling you that something is wrong. Ignorance isn’t bliss – get to the source of it with a check engine light diagnostic test at your local mechanic or auto body shop.

Battery (medium priority)
The battery light, also called a charging warning light, can be triggered in several ways, though it most often flicks on when the charging system is not charging the battery to a voltage above 13.5 volts. This could be due to corroded battery cable terminals or damaged battery plates or signal a problem with the alternator or voltage regulator. If the light comes on while you’re driving, your car will continue to run as long as there’s life left in the battery. But once you turn off the engine, there’s a chance you won’t be able to restart the car. If possible, turn off/unplug as many electrical accessories to reduce strain on the battery and head towards your local mechanic or auto body shop for a battery test.

Oil Pressure (medium priority)
When the oil warning light pops on, your oil level or oil pressure may be low. If either is the case, your engine could stop running while you’re still driving. Not only could this damage the engine and many of its connected parts, but it could also cause an accident if you’re on a busy road! For short-term peace of mind, check your oil level and if low, fill it up to the normal operating level. This will help keep your engine lubricated while you drive to your nearest mechanic or auto body shop to get the light checked out, but it is not a long-term solution.

Power Steering (low priority)
If your car’s power steering warning light – often known as the EPAS light – is illuminated, it means there could be something wrong with the steering system.

If the system fails, the steering could go heavy, meaning more effort will be needed to make the car change direction. This can be an annoyance at low speed when you’re trying to maneuver around but a real risk at higher speeds if you need to make a sudden lane change or swerve to avoid an obstacle.

Tire Pressure (low priority)
When the Tire Pressure or TPMS light comes on – and stays on – at least one of your tires is at a low-pressure level. Check the pressure of all of the tires with a gauge and determine the cause of pressure loss and add air or service the tire(s) as appropriate. Some spare tires have a sensor too so be sure to check that one as well!

It’s always good practice to check your owner’s manual to learn more about your vehicle or keep it handy in the glove compartment so you can reference it.

To find a list with all the vehicle warning lights to look out for, visit AutoZone’s Vehicle Warning Indicator page.

Columbus City Spotlight